PH-based legal practitioner speaks on his experience with politicians.

Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner, Chief F. J. Abigo, was called to the Nigerian Bar in July 1979.

He was elected into the Rivers State House of Assembly – an experience truncated by the Buhari coup of 1983 – and the House of Representatives in 1992 – also toppled by the late General Sani Abacha in 1993. In this interview by SAM NWAOKO, he speaks on why he rejected appointment as a judge and sundry issues. Excerpts:

There were a lot. Though my stay in the House of Assembly was very brief, we functioned as lawmakers. We were able to control the executive and we allowed the executive run its course provided it did not disturb other arms of government. The judiciary at that time was quite independent and the legislature was also independent. I enjoyed that period.

Would you say the same thing of the National Assembly today?

As of the time we got to the National Assembly matters were just starting after all the rigmarole of Babangida. However, the independence of all the arms of government was still there but it was too brief for any person to say he enjoyed it. It was too brief. Though it was a military regime, with due respect, Babangida didn’t impose himself on us. He made certain requests and he gave the option of accept or reject, notwithstanding that it was a military regime.

In the first place, I didn’t see the society as wanting justice, in a sense. Although I was very young but I saw the society as a place where people always had a feeling that they could have their way if they had the money and I was not prepared to be in that type of society. I preferred being a private legal practitioner where I can do whatever I want to do within the law.

Was it state or federal judiciary?

It would have been in the state. And the system then was not like what we are having now. In the system then they watch you; your character, your practice and they would invite you; come we want to give you such a position. If you accepted, you would be appointed. There wasn’t this poodle of Judicial Service Commission calling you for interview then sending your name here and there. That was not the system. Sometimes, you would say give me some days to think or a number of hours to think. For me it was never so difficult because if I don’t want something, there and then I can tell you I don’t need it. Thank you.

So, what are those things you see that are strange to you in the system?

We have no government today in Nigeria. We have no government because when you talk of government, government should be able to guarantee safety of individuals. As at that time you could travel to anywhere in Nigeria without fear of anything along the road. If you wanted to go by air, you could go. If you wanted to go by road, you could because government is there and it was in charge.

A friend and I were discussing the times and he said that the times have always been like this. No good time, no bad time and I said I disagree. A situation where a human being innocently travelling is kidnapped on the road, and held in the bush for as long as they want, so where is the safety of the human being? The Nigerian situation is very difficult to understand. As we are talking, I believe you are aware that some Nigerians were kidnapped while on a train journey from Abuja to Kaduna and a number of persons including one of my course mates in the Law School who is from Kanduna State, is among those who were kidnapped. They are yet to be released. Where are they? So, where is the government? I know that I had driven from Abuja to Kaduna and back to Abuja before. I had no fear of anything. I have a course mate of mine from Kaduna State who is based in Jos. He said you dare not put your vehicle on the road to drive from Kaduna to Abuja, that you will be committing suicide.

Let me take you back to your rejection of becoming a judge in the old Rivers State, what vivid examples can you cite as reasons for that decision even as a young lawyer then? Secondly, what year was this sir?

I will only mention period, not year. I worked in Shell Petroleum from where I went to the university. I had thought that I could make my own contributions to society based on my experience of administration as at that time in Shell. I was a field person, a lot of the riverine flow stations (they called it Slump Operations then) were opened by me. Thereafter, I became a coordinator in Shell production, drilling and engineering departments. My duty in the production department was the siting of new wells to see whether they were commercially viable or not. And I was given free hand to do my duties. No interference. The company relied then on my report to put a well on stream or not. If I said the well was not commercially viable and that report was coming right from the field, they did not see any need to stay in the administrative office and doubt. They gave me a free hand to do my duties before I left. There, I saw the independence and dignity of labour.

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